Drum roll please, I am about to tell you about an exhibition worth curtsying for, a show fit for royalty. It has pomp, it has circumstance, and its hero is the bad boy of the British royal family, the king who takes the prize for being the first, and last, to have his head chopped off on this side of the Channel. This monarch had some serious loot, and it’s been reunited under the Royal Academy roof in Charles I: King and Collector. This is an exhibition you might just lose your head over.
Charles I’s extraordinary collection of 140 masterpieces is brought together again for the first time since the seventeenth century. It had been sold off just months after his execution and scattered across Europe. The Royal Academy has partnered with the Royal Collection Trust, Her Majesty the Queen having loaned 90 pieces for the exhibition. Artwork from the National Gallery, the Louvre and the Prado also take pride of wall at the Royal Academy which is stuffed with Titians, Holbeins, Van Dycks and Rubens until April.
Charles I was born in 1600 and grew up in an exceptionally cultured world with both a father (James I) and a brother with a penchant for the arts. He would become an avid collector of Renaissance paintings, in particular Titians, whilst commissioning his own contemporary collection of art. On entering the King’s Whitehall apartments, visitors would have been greeted by a dazzling array of art with portrait miniatures and paintings by Titian, Correggio, Rubens and Van Dyck.
By 1649, Charles had amassed a collection of some 1500 paintings and 500 sculptures including Aphrodite, The Crouching Venus. You can view an 18th century facsimile of this 2nd century AD roman statue in the Victoria and Albert Sculpture Room.
Anthony van Dyck was appointed court painter in 1632, and he went on to create a series of iconic portraits of Charles I and his family. The King and his French-born Queen were devoted to each other. In this portrait, Charles presents Henrietta with a laurel wreath, the symbol of victory. She reciprocates with an olive sprig, the symbol of peace.
The sophisticated Queen also had an interest in the arts. She lived between her palaces at Somerset House and the Queen’s House in Greenwich which was completed under her patronage. Henrietta arranged for Orazio Gentileschi to visit England, and during his tenure here, he painted the shimmering ceilings in the Queen’s House Great Hall.
I love all things bright and beautiful, but this monochrome sketch really captured my attention. There’s a ghostlike quality to the only surviving van Dyck sketch of Charles I.
Those of you who follow me on Instagram may remember my recent post about George Villiers, the 2nd Duke of Buckingham. On the left is a portrait of his father, the 1st Duke of Buckingham. He was one of James I’s favourite courtiers, possibly his lover, and a keen art collector. He was still a royal favourite under Charles I until an army officer assassinated him in 1628. The painting on the right is of the 2nd Duke of Buckingham (of Villiers Street fame) and his younger brother, Francis. They were both brought up in Charles I’s household following the assassination of their father.
More is more in this exhibition, with some monumental works by van Dyck. You can catch The Great Peece, the painter’s first commission as Court Painter to Charles I. Charles I: King and Collector is on at the Royal Academy until 15 April 2018. You can book tickets here.
What do you all think of the newest addition to the Royal Academy courtyard, the G F Watts cast, Physical Energy ? The piece was first displayed in the Royal Academy courtyard in 1904. It was Watts’ last submission to the Royal Academy Summer Exhibition. This is the fourth version of the original sculpture and will eventually move to its permanent home at the Watts Gallery Artists’ Village in Surrey.
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